Thursday Bulldog Football Notebook

Derrick Milton rattles off some of the names. "I've played in an all-American game with Jeremy Hill and Odell Beckham. I went to a camp with Kenny Hilliard, Jarvis Landry, Anthony Johnson. So I know all those guys. We're pretty tight."

And in a case or two Milton expects to get really tight with these familiar LSU faces Saturday night as #22 Mississippi State (7-2, 3-2 SEC) baits the #9 Tigers (7-2, 3-2) in their lair. It's a reunion of sorts for the Pineville, La., native-turned Bulldog running back. For that matter Milton is acquainted with more than just a lot of those opponents. He has experienced the venue, albeit sitting in a seat.

This is his first chance to wear an opposing uniform to Tiger Stadium. "Being from there I've been to games. I can just imagine how it is because being in the stands it's definitely crazy!" Just in a fun sort of way…which does not diminish the challenge Milton expects from a justly-touted Tiger defense. The defensive line in particular, which Milton and his fellowbBulldog backs have to attack.

"And I know most of them! So that's kind of fun coming into the game. But if we stick to the basics and do our executing we can block those guys."

Execution is the order of the Dog-day after consecutive weekends, and defeats, where Mississippi State's ground game rarely got going. Falling behind by three touchdowns after three opposing possessions was one obvious factor in rushing futility. Yet even in MSU's own opening series attempts to pound the ground as in the first seven wins went just about nowhere.

Still Milton said there are no big fixes or changes in store. In fact, he reported this practice week was essentially back-to-basics. "Just sticking to what we were successful with early in the season. Hit ‘em with that down hill running we're best at and pounding the ball. It's going to come back."

It sounds like a fine strategy, but this is a LSU defense that through five SEC games is allowing just 108 ground yards and 2.8 per carry. On six of 151 rushes against the Tigers by league offenses have produced a touchdown. Does that deter the Dogs from sticking to their own basics? Obviously not.

"We're really confident," Milton said. "We have to keep pounding it and pounding out. It's no down on us, we just have to do better as a group."

And he does mean group. LaDarius Perkins has been and will continue getting the big Dog's share of carries as befits a 95-per-game runner. At the same time coordinator Les Koenning has been working Milton, Josh Robinson, and Nick Griffin in for some series of their own to rest the starter and test their younger talents. This keeps everyone in the game looking for their chance, said Milton.

Then, "You've got to make the most of them. We play our role and we all know our roles. And when we get the opportunity, we're ready. So we go out and make plays and are just excited to be a part of this." With, by the way, no questions at all about Perkins setting their pace no matter recent struggles against good defenses.

"Oh yeah, he definitely leads the bunch in the right way. He's a guy we look up to so it's no complaints or selfishness at all," said Milton. In fact, Milton and his classmates think the spot-duty schedule of this season so far has helped their development as college runners.

"Tremendously. I've gotten a lot more confident in the offense and the plays we're running, understanding the offense better. I feel I've grown a lot mentally."

TAKING HIS TURN: One of those younger backs has earned some attention with a handful of solid runs. In mop-up duty against Middle Tennessee, soph Nick Griffin broke a 44-yarder down the sideline. He missed scoring by being bumped-out a long stride short of the goal. At Alabama he got nine yards on his one carry; then two totes against Texas A&M produced ten yards.

Could heavier duty be in Griffin's November future? "I hope so, whatever I can do I'm ready to do it!" But at the same time he knows his place in the 2012 order and that Milton and Robinson deserve their own turns given the time-and-place of matchups and scores.

"Everybody wants to play, first of all," Griffin said. "But I'm trying to be patient, and whenever my name is called I have to be ready. Whenever that may be." The fact there are other teammates of equal abilities also getting a handful of rushes does aid Griffin's patience as Coach Greg Knox splits snaps as available.

"Yeah, we have a deep rotation," said Griffin. "I feel we've got one of the best backfields in the country." Yet the backfield has as noted struggled lately and is netting under four yards per rush in SEC action. Nor has State rushed for 100 yards since Middle Tennessee.

"I couldn't say it's one specific thing. Just overall small things," said Griffin. "Everybody just needs to be on the same page. We take it upon ourselves to pick it up and get things going. We want to run the ball; it starts with us."

ON THE OTHER SIDE: LSU also wants to run the ball, and does it very well. Never mind only one Tiger back is listed this week in the first-fifteen SEC rushers; look at the unit's total of 175 ground yards each week. This is a real rotation of three and four runners all capable of pounding the line and breaking it big.

LB Cam Lawrence knows very well what to expect. "LSU is going to put a lot of guys in the box with a big, bruiser fullback. Me, personally, I like that kind of game. You know, just smash-mouth and downhill running. That's going to be fun."

Spoken like a senior linebacker. But it's more fun when the smashing puts that downhill runner down on the ground. And whether it be those sorts of power backs or quicker ones getting to the edges, the Bulldog defense is just not finishing folk off. As linebackers Coach Geoff Collins reported, Texas A&M had something like 300 yards after contact with a State defender.

"Tackling has been an issue, definitely for Teas A&M," Lawrence said. "So far as executing goes, tackling would be there. Just a little bit of everything, it's hard to put your finger on one thing. But simple executing the game plan is what they're talking about."

Interestingly, the '12 gameplan does not emphasize making tackles behind the line. If it's there they try to take it of course; but against the better offenses Lawrence said the Bulldogs have to think less of sacks than simply making stops.

"We're more concerned with not letting them get ten yards. Tackling for losses is good but it's trying not to let them get first downs is our main priority."

CH-CH-CH-CHANGES: Coordinator Chris Wilson said this week that yes, bagging quarterbacks is a good thing. Just don't expect any radical commitment to blitzes or bringing extra Dogs up to the line of scrimmage, he said.

"I would always like more (pass rush)," Wilson said. "You would like to be able to create as much pressure with four down-guys as you can. I believe you can rush with four guys and contain them."

Not that Wilson expects the four front Dogs to have to rush a passer quite as often this week as LSU is almost polar-opposite to A&M. And not just in contrasting quarterbacks. "You are going to see a little more two backs," Wilson said. "They are still dynamic on the perimeter with their guys, the one thing you don't see as much is the quarterback run game which was really relevant a week ago. The biggest thing we have is get back to basics, get back to tackling and playing with relentless effort."

There it is again, the tackling issue. Wilson did point out that preparing for A&M with an agile run-first quarterback was in a way like scouting a wishbone offense; four days of practice isn't enough, not from a scheme sense but the sheer speed with which things happen when the quarterback starts moving. State wanted to contain Johnny Manziel to the pocket and make him throw. "We weren't able to do that." Nor other Aggies as all six A&M touchdown were run into the end zone, not thrown. Interestingly, a week earlier Alabama burned the Bulldogs with a couple of first-half touchdown passes while State stacked against the rush.

The Bulldogs aren't as concerned about containing Zach Mettenberger of course; the Tiger passer will use that strong arm first and last when not handing-off to his stable of runners. And nothing matters if State doesn't make the tackles. "From last week, we know there's room for improvement," Wilson said. "Getting back to basics, tackling, being position to make plays, and being able to get to a quarterback. We really have to go to work and really have to have a good gameplan this week."

"You have to be critical from how you're teaching and how guys are preparing. When you see some things that have been exposed you have to go address them, you can't run from them." Yet Wilson has one trump card in making fixes: players who have made tackles before and know they can again. "Those guys, I wouldn't trade for anyone else."

FIRST CONTACT: The team tackles race tightened up last weekend, and now LB Benardrick McKinney is barely ahead of Lawrence; 73 to 72. Not that either was happy with what the entire team tallied against A&M. "Looking on film we had a lot of MAs," said McKinney of assignments missed and thus tackles not made. "I was kind of disappointed, we missed a lot of tackles."

Both ‘backers are expecting plenty of opportunities to make first contact this weekend though. Put another way, State likely won't do as much chasing side-to-side of LSU. "They like to run it inside because they have a lot of good backs and their fullback," McKinney said. "We just have to stay low and bring it every play. It's going to be a very physical game, and a lot of mental things into it too. We're just going to execute our plays and run to the ball."


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